Does Kanye West have a problem with women? And not just Taylor Swift? His latest video for his new single “Monster” is causing huge controversy with it’s depiction of women, specifically dead women. With half-naked corpses hung from the ceiling, vacant eyes and limp bodies, he either deliberately wanted to stir up a storm (cynically repugnant) or didn’t realise anyone would mind (alarming repugnant). Mamamia contributor and journalism academic Nina Funnell looks at how dead seems to be the new sexy.
First of all here’s the clip:
What do you think of music video clips these days? Too sexy? Too raunchy? Too smutty? Well, not me. I’m going to go out on a limb and say today’s video clips are not sexy enough. In fact, they are not sexy at all. And they never have been.
Watching heavily made-up women squeeze into too tight clothes and ridiculously high heels before grinding back and forth on an imaginary phallus, all while trying to maintain their contrived ‘come-hither’ look and big hair, does not make me think about sexual intimacy, true sensuality or deep and satisfying physical pleasure. It just looks like bloody hard work.
Video clips said to be too sexual rarely offer anything other than a contrived, heavily choreographed and deliberately manufactured version of a hollow and artificial sexuality. It’s all so sad and so predictable.
While many commentators argue that video clips over-sexualise women, the real problem is they actually deny the sexuality of women all together. Instead of analysing the clothes and dance moves within these clips, we should look at how desire functions.
As so often in popular culture, women are expected to appear desirable, but to be completely lacking in all desire of their own. The best example of this is Britney Spears in her Hit me baby days and Jessica Simpson circa 2002. Both Spears and Simpson stated they were virgins and intended to remain so until marriage. Meanwhile, they would grind back and forth wearing tiny outfits all designed to titillate. In other words their sexuality was to be consumed and enjoyed by everyone except themselves.
The “sexually rapacious virgin” is just one paradox of our sexualised pop culture. But a while back I began to wonder where our sexualised pop culture is really heading. At some point all the bouncy hair, big boobs and tiny skirts just gets old. These days humping a pole is not so much risqué as passé.
So once sex (or rather, the limited and stereotypical representations of pop-culture sex) gets tired, what becomes the new frontier in risqué representation?
Well, if the new Kanye West clip for his single Monster is anything to go by, sexualised death might just be the answer. In the teaser to the clip, three dead women in lingerie and high heels swing back and forth from a metal chain, hanging from the ceiling. Another two young women are slumped on a bed, like lifeless mannequins as a man caresses them. Another woman is decapitated. And another lies spreadeagled on a table as a man eats raw meat from between her legs.
It’s not surprising really. If sexualising live women has become boring, why not sexualise dead ones?
Of course many people will defend the clip in the name of art. Others will say viewers have the capacity to differentiate between dark fantasy and reality. And fair enough. Viewers are far more competent and media literate than they are often given credit for.
But there is another side to the debate. Recently commentator Melinda Tankard Reist criticised the blatant erotization of female death. In it she writes: “The men don’t seem horrified at all by the female corpses littered through the haunted mansion… In fact, they seem to quite like it. It seems to turn them on.”
“The clip is not only interested in fetishizing female bodies – it revels in fetishizing female pain, female passivity, female suffering and female silence. The ultimate female is the quiet, passive female – a mannequin – who accepts violence, abuse and suffering while remaining hot and sexy.”
As another commenter writes, “There’s nothing [overly] shocking or ‘taboo’ about this video. Men’s sexual desire to dominate passive, docile, ‘lifeless’ women has been a common theme in the arts throughout history. Indeed, many men disingenuously hide behind ‘art’ to defend this proclivity. But how often do you see black men hanging from trees or Jews being gassed in ovens ‘artistically’ to make a comment on racism or genocide, for example? It’s not likely to happen because that would be deeply offensive, even in the name of art. Women on the other hand are apparently fair game, even in a world where sexual and other male violence against women and girls is epidemic.
Since then a petition has been set up against the full clip being released.
So what are we to make of it? Is this just another articulation of our Twilight and True Blood inspired preoccupation with death and the eroticization of lifeless flesh? Is this clip an artistic exploration and commentary on the dark recesses of the fame game? Or is there something unusually twisted, grotesque and misogynistic about depicting and sexualising dead looking women in this context? And how does the meaning change depending on who is doing the looking and the cultural perspective from where they are looking?
Perhaps Kanye West is merely trying to be controversial and daring in an industry where sex (at least sex with living women) has become passe and predictable.
But if that’s the case, Kanye is a bit behind the times. After all, the fashion industry has been depicting and sexualising passive, pale, expressionless and lifeless looking women for eons. Models with skeletal bodies and vacant stares have been the standard in high-end fashion advertisements for some time now.
The irony is that if we’re talking about what most red-blooded heterosexual men actually find attractive, it is rarely a sickly looking corpse. Most men I know are attracted to women who are active and confident in exploring their own sexual pleasure.
Maybe one day, video-clips will get truly radical and start offering representations of actual, three-dimensional females complete with realistic sexual agency.
What did you think of Kanye West’s music video?